Habitat Connectivity on Public Lands
All Field Officials
Assistant Director, Resources and Planning
Habitat Connectivity on Public Lands
This Instruction Memorandum (IM) helps the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fulfill aspects of its multiple use and sustained yield mandate by ensuring habitats for native fish, wildlife, and plant populations are sufficiently inter- connected. As part of that work, this policy directs the BLM state offices to consult with state fish and wildlife agencies and Tribes to assess habitat connectivity in order to manage as best as possible for intact, connected habitat.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), as amended, includes a congressional declaration of policy that “the public lands be managed in a manner that will …provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife…” (Section 102(a)(8)). FLPMA also identifies “fish and wildlife development and utilization” as one of the six “principal or major uses” of the public lands (Section 103(l)), and “wildlife and fish” as one of the resources expressly included in the definition of “multiple use” (Section 103(c)). Existing BLM policy directs the BLM “to manage habitat with emphasis on ecosystems to ensure self-sustaining populations and a natural abundance and diversity of wildlife, fish, and plant resources on the public lands” (BLM Manual Section (MS) 6500, rel. 6-114 (Wildlife and Fisheries Management) Section .06 Policy). This IM builds on that policy by directing BLM state offices to explicitly consider habitat connectivity, permeability, and resilience as a means to ensuring those self-sustaining populations.
Management of habitats for wildlife, fish, and plant species, in consultation and collaboration with states and Tribes, is a core part of the BLM’s long- standing agency practice. However, the management of the connections between and within priority habitats (for both migratory and non-migratory species) has, in some cases, received less attention and, with increasing habitat fragmentation and degradation, maintaining habitat integrity and connectivity has become a significant need.
BLM recognizes the state and Tribal authority and expertise over fish and wildlife management, seeking here to do its part to by ensuring that fish and wildlife have intact, connected habitat on our public lands.
The overarching policy intent of this IM is to ensure habitat connectivity, permeability and resilience is restored, maintained, improved, and/or conserved on public lands. To accomplish this outcome, BLM state offices will work with state and Tribal wildlife managers as well as other stakeholders to assess data regarding connectivity, permeability, and resilience and, based on that assessment, identify where to focus management that best supports priority species.
Priority Habitat refers to habitat conditions, areas, or types that have been identified in Resource Management Plans or special studies as having special significance for focused management or conservation actions. Habitat connectivity refers to how and to what degree distinct sources of food, water, and shelter for fish, wildlife, and plant populations are distributed and inter-connected, both spatially and temporally, across terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.
BLM Manual Section 6500 (Wildlife and Fisheries Management) and MS 6840, rel. 6-125 (Special Status Species Management Manual) are under revision. Even as those revisions are ongoing, to help guide where best to focus management of connectivity, the BLM will inventory public lands to assess habitat connectivity in order to determine how best to manage for it, by directing restoration activities or by identifying areas of habitat connectivity, which are habitats on BLM administered public lands that support or facilitate priority species movements and other ecological processes, such as seed dispersal, migrations, and stopover sites. Just as land management agencies have long inventoried riparian areas in order to manage for their value, this IM directs the Bureau to inventory areas of habitat connectivity in order to manage for intact habitat.
The following text adds to the existing manuals to clarify the BLM’s responsibilities for management of habitat connectivity on public lands.
The following is added at the end of Section MS 6500.06 Policy:
Will manage existing fish and wildlife habitat with the goal of maintaining, improving, and/or conserving habitat connectivity and restoring degraded fish and wildlife habitat to provide for increased habitat connectivity.
The following is added at the end of Section MS 6840.06 Policy, subsection 2 (Administration of Bureau Sensitive Species), subsection C. (Implementation):
Managing existing special status species habitat with the goal of maintaining, improving, and/or conserving habitat connectivity and restoring degraded special status species habitat to provide for increased habitat connectivity.
The subsequent sections of this IM provide guidance to implement these manual-level policy objectives in land use planning and in implementation-level decisions that include habitat conservation and restoration.
Nothing in this IM should imply federal management of wildlife species, unless as directed under the Endangered Species Act or the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act.
Nothing in this IM shall be construed as direction to enact a new category of federal designations for wildlife migration corridors.
The Bureau recognizes that the work of habitat connectivity is, by its nature, collaborative and in some cases warrants co-stewardship. To succeed, we must share our resources, our science, and our various tools with the states, Tribes, and private landowners that we manage lands alongside.
Assessment of Public Lands for Habitat Connectivity
Consistent with BLM’s inventory obligations and authority for important resource values (as provided for in Section 201(a) of FLPMA), and to help guide where best to focus management of connectivity, the BLM will assess public lands for habitat connectivity and identify areas of habitat connectivity, which are habitats on BLM administered public lands that support or facilitate priority species movements and other ecological processes, such as seed dispersal, migrations, and stopover sites.
The initial assessment will assess existing priority habitat and the connectivity between them. BLM state offices will complete these assessments within one calendar year from the issuance of this IM. The initial assessment will be based on existing data according to the methodology found in Attachment 2, and will rely on collaboration, coordination and consultation with Tribal and state wildlife managers, and other federal agencies
State Directors will determine which priority species and which priority habitats to prioritize for initial assessment in consultation with states and Tribes. State, local and Tribal expertise is critical to the assessment, as informed by traditional ecological knowledge and scientifically defensible local, regional, and national data, including climate modeling products and delineations of priority and seasonal habitats. Offices are also encouraged to work with a diverse scientific field of experts to expand research on habitat connectivity on public lands to best inform the assessment of habitat connectivity.
From this assessment, HQ230 and the National Operations Center will develop an initial geospatial layer to support identification of areas of habitat connectivity on BLM-managed lands and data standards to provide a consistent framework. The assessment and resulting geospatial layer will be updated periodically and kept current as new information is gained about resource conditions and as ecological transformation occurs due to climate change.
Because not all habitat is considered equal in importance for maintaining the overall integrity of the habitat, State Directors will determine where to best focus management of habitat connectivity. To support that process, BLM offices will use the assessment and geospatial layer to identify which lands/waters priority species need to move between habitat types. Offices will include consideration of both linear connectivity needs and habitat permeability and resilience needs and will seek to factor in reasonably foreseeable shifts in species ranges and movement/migration needs. In consultation and collaboration with state and Tribal wildlife managers, State Directors will select habitat conservation areas that best support priority species, and connection between priority habitats.
Once the BLM assesses habitat connectivity and identifies areas important to habitat connectivity, the BLM should consider each area as a habitat feature for the relevant species in land use planning efforts.
Specifically, areas of habitat connectivity should be addressed and appropriately analyzed in new land use plans and revisions, if appropriate, after considering the results of the plan evaluation, state director’s planning guidance, and the purpose and need of the plan or amendment.
BLM offices must incorporate evaluation of areas of habitat connectivity, and management and analysis of them (consistent with the land use planning effort’s purpose and need), in the land use planning cycle, as follows:
- Plan Evaluations: During scheduled land use plan evaluations, and as appropriate to the scope of unscheduled land use plan evaluations, evaluate if existing land use plan decisions are (or are not) restoring, maintaining, improving, and /or conserving areas of habitat connectivity. See Case Study #1 in Attachment 1 for an example of how to incorporate areas of habitat connectivity into a plan evaluation.
- State Director Planning Guidance: Provide the focus and framework for the planning effort as it relates to areas of habitat connectivity, including consideration of any resource conflicts identified by the plan evaluation or opportunities provided by the planning area.
- State Directors will, consistent with this policy and in consultation with state and Tribal fish and wildlife agencies, provide direction to state, district, and field offices to seek to restore, maintain, improve, and/or conserve areas of habitat connectivity in the planning area.
- Where resource conflicts exist, state directors will provide appropriate direction to state, district, and field offices for balanced land management, taking into consideration the significance of the habitat, the nature of the conflicts, state and/or Tribal priorities, and other uses of the public lands.
- Preparation Plans: Identify issues and necessary data sources for analyzing impacts to areas of habitat connectivity. Discuss in the preparation plan whether data are available and if time and/or funding are needed to secure necessary data.
- Formulation of Alternatives and Analysis of Issues: The following information will be included, as appropriate, in the planning criteria/analysis of the management situation document, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents, and decision documents:
- Disclose all areas of habitat connectivity within the planning area, including the location, habitat components, and species for which each was assessed.
- Describe how management of areas of habitat connectivity would occur under each alternative. The decisions for habitat connectivity will generally vary across alternatives to allow for analysis of different approaches to meet the purpose and need. In identifying decisions in the planning effort, the BLM may:
- Identify specific objectives and management direction for habitat connectivity, including appropriate allocations to support the objectives. (See Case Study #2 in Attachment 1 for an example of how to identify objectives and management direction for habitat connectivity);
- Identify management areas (e.g., wildlife habitat management areas, riparian management areas) to establish objectives and management direction for a habitat connectivity, including appropriate allocations to support the management of habitat connectivity; or
- Apply an administrative designation, such as an area of critical environmental concern or a backcountry conservation area, to support management of the habitat connectivity area (where the habitat connectivity area and associated management meet the criteria to allow those designations to be applied).
- As appropriate, incorporate adaptive management (i.e., monitoring requirements, trigger thresholds, and management responses) into management direction and allocation decisions to provide for future management of habitat connectivity if disturbances alter habitats, species’ needs or distributions change, future climate projections are refined, etc.
- Identify any analysis issues, analytical frameworks for analysis, and the approach for analyzing the effects of BLM decisions on the management of areas of habitat connectivity across alternatives, including trade-offs associated with impacts to habitat connectivity across the alternatives.
During the implementation-level decision-making process, authorized officers shall adhere to the following protocol for areas of habitat connectivity, unless it would be inconsistent with the governing land use plan.
- When conducting appropriate NEPA analysis in an area with areas of habitat connectivity that the BLM determines warrants detailed analysis consistent with the
H-1790-1, rel. 1-1710, BLM NEPA Handbook (Section 6.4 Issues):
- Consider an alternative for analysis that seeks to avoid, as much as practicable, adverse impacts to the habitat connectivity area (e.g., by siting an incompatible resource use outside of the area, by co-locating the incompatible resource use in previously degraded areas, by identifying appropriate design features that de- conflict the resource uses and the habitat connectivity area function, etc.). This avoidance strategy is particularly important in areas where restoration is unlikely to be successful.
- Where possible, incorporate adaptive management processes into alternatives to facilitate the agency’s ability to change its management actions should monitoring data indicate unexpected impacts to areas of habitat connectivity are occurring (e.g., if a fence is necessary for in a right-of-way grant, but there are concerns that the fence may impact wildlife migration, the BLM may want to analyze in an alternative a stipulation that if the fence is found to be limiting the ability of migrating wildlife to move through a habitat connectivity area effectively, the BLM can require the operator to remove, re-design, or replace the fence).
- For adverse impacts to areas of habitat connectivity identified in the analysis (which may be indirect effects on public lands outside of the project area), develop and analyze appropriate mitigation measures to help support the continued function of areas of habitat connectivity.
- Identify habitat improvement actions in areas of habitat connectivity where habitat assessments indicated the quality and health of the habitat is degraded.
- In implementation-level decision documents for projects in areas of habitat connectivity, include standardized monitoring to ensure the effects of the project on areas of habitat connectivity are consistent with the desired conditions as referenced in the governing resource management plan, and to determine if adaptive management thresholds have been triggered (as applicable), and to inform other resource data needs.
- The authorized officer should address how the selected alternative results in adverse impacts to habitat connectivity when discussing the rationale for the decision, considering FLPMA’s policy statement and the BLM policy (including this IM) favoring fish and wildlife habitat management.
Authorized officers should, in accordance with the governing land use plan, and to the extent practicable, take appropriate actions to restore, maintain, improve, and/or conserve areas of habitat connectivity. Refer to the following section for example actions.
Proactive Habitat Conservation and Restoration
BLM offices shall work with states, Tribes and other partners willing to develop and implement shared and collaborative ecosystem-based conservation strategies for areas of habitat connectivity and the habitats they serve to connect, especially in areas of mixed ownership. These strategies must be consistent with the governing land use plan(s). The types of strategies and projects that benefit habitat connectivity are diverse and will vary depending on a variety of ecological and social factors. Such actions may include, but are not limited to:
- Removing physical and disturbance barriers to fish and wildlife movements (e.g., removal of hazardous fencing, installation of wildlife-friendly fencing, improvements to fish passages, building wildlife crossings, etc.);
- Installation of signage to mitigate vehicle-wildlife collisions;
- Treatments that promote resilient species composition and structure of native plant communities;
- Strategic development and location of water sources and other features to encourage wildlife utilization of suitable habitat across landscapes;
- Travel management implementation;
- Projects that address impacts from fire, drought, and invasive species; and
- Land and Water Conservation Fund and/or Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act acquisitions that support habitat connectivity.
 FLPMA (Savings Provisions at 43 USC 1701) directs that in the event of conflict with or inconsistency between FLPMA and the 1937 Oregon and California Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. (O&C Act), relating to the management of timber resources and the disposition of revenue, the O&C Act takes precedence. This direction must be considered when implementing this policy on lands managed pursuant to the O&C Act.
 Various resources are available to the BLM to help make a determination about the potential for restoration success. One tool set that is an appropriate starting point is to consider an area’s “resistance and resilience,” as described by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.
This policy will increase financial costs for BLM offices in order to assess habitat connectivity. The BLM will continue to consider several criteria when prioritizing undertaking the assessment of habitat connectivity and identification of areas of habitat connectivity. Monitoring requirements and workloads may increase to ensure the effects of projects, including design features and mitigation measures, are as expected and can inform other resource data needs. To support the implementation of this policy, state offices are encouraged to submit funding requests to the Headquarters’ Division of Wildlife Conservation, Aquatics, and Environmental Protection or to include the funding need in the preparation plan for the development, revision, or amendment of a land use plan.
This IM is in response to Secretary Haaland’s direction in April 2022, for agencies to update polices, to identify and prioritize conservation and restoration of wildlife corridors as well as other lands and waters that advance habitat connectivity, permeability and resilience in partnership with state and Tribal wildlife managers and other stakeholders. It builds upon the BLM’s on-going efforts to implement Secretary’s Order 3362 (Improving Habitat Quality in Western Big-Game Winter Range and Migration Corridors) and BLM IM 2018-062 (Addressing Hunting, Fishing, Shooting Sports, and Big Game Habitats, and Incorporating Fish and Wildlife Conservation Plans and Information from Tribes, State Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and Other Federal Agencies in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Processes). This IM is also intended to be supportive of state- level and Tribal efforts to manage lands for the benefit of wildlife habitat and wildlife movement, including, for example, the implementation of Governor-level Executive Orders in Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society Wildlife Corridors Initiative.
This policy updates Manual Section 6500 (Wildlife and Fisheries Management) and Manual Section 6840 (Special Status Species Management). The policies in the IM will be formally incorporated into these two manual sections during their on- going revisions and into a new wildlife habitat management handbook, currently in development.
If there are any questions concerning this IM, please contact Stephanie Miller, Deputy Division Chief (Acting), Division of Wildlife Conservation, Aquatics, and Environmental Protection at 202-317-0086 or email@example.com.
The policy was coordinated within the HQ200 (Resources and Planning), HQ300 (Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management), HQ400 (National Conservation Lands and Community Partnerships), state offices, and the Office of the Solicitor.